I first met Jo 30 years ago in the snowy surrounds of the Swiss Alps. We share an enthusiasm for all things Nordic and twinkly, which made working on her family’s Christmas Lapland adventure all the more satisfying. Santa Claus Holiday Village, reindeer sleigh rides, huskies and snow, beautiful snow...
I have dreamed of a trip to Lapland for as long as I can remember, and when our two boys were three and six, the stars aligned with term dates falling so that school finished over a week before Christmas.
I contacted Jo in June, thinking we were planning well ahead. She broke the news gently that I might be a little late booking as tickets went on sale in January but was immediately on the case to see what she could come up with.
After we had resigned ourselves to waiting another year, I was sweltering on a train home from work and answered a call from Jo, who had found a trip with Regent Holidays that would take us to the frozen North!
We flew from Gatwick to Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland with Norwegian Air on 15 December. The flight left at 05:50, so the complimentary lounge passes provided a welcome oasis of calm for tired parents and overexcited children!
The flight was three and a half hours and as we approached Rovaniemi, the announcement that there was a chance we might see reindeer on practise flights had us pressed to the windows.
We were collected by a friendly driver who drove us through the dark snowy landscape for our three-night stay in Santa Claus Holiday Village.
Our accommodation was a Superior Cottage, a cosy wooden cabin at the edge of the village.
Each cabin had its own twinkling Christmas tree on the porch; and with two sleds waiting to be used by the steps, it was hard to persuade the boys to come inside.
The cabin had a double bedroom and a sofa bed in the lounge, with a small kitchenette and plenty of drying space for snowy clothes and boots.
Most exciting for the adults was the prospect of our own sauna off the bathroom.
We were keen to get out into the snow and explore, and by this time the daylight had finally arrived. Bundled up in snow gear, we headed out through the pretty village of cottages to get to the centre of the resort.
There is a collection of buildings surrounded by forest which straddle the Arctic Circle and house restaurants, shops and Father Christmas House, where you can meet the man himself.
The buildings and trees were covered in twinkling lights and everything was blanketed in thick snow.
The snow was absolutely the highlight for us. The children were ecstatic to play and sledge throughout the day and getting from A to B was a little adventure every time, with every building having sleds stacked outside for you to help yourself and pull the children along.
Over the course of our stay, several locals told us were lucky to have such thick snow; temperatures are rising, and it can no longer be guaranteed that December in Lapland will be snowy.
We felt very privileged to have the opportunity to enjoy such an amazing landscape as it should be.
It was cold but relatively mild, never going below -10 in the daytime, and it snowed often keeping the snow pristine for us to enjoy, although the clouds made the chance to tick off another travel wish, seeing the Northern Lights, unlikely.
We stayed half-board, eating breakfast and our evening meal in the Three Elves restaurant. The food was tasty and filling, with some Lappish specialities as well as familiar fries, nugget and pizza options for the children.
For lunch, there were cafes in the village which gave us the opportunity to try reindeer meat in various forms, and had the children been a little older we might have treated ourselves at one of the more formal restaurants.
We did enjoy Santa's Salmon Place, a traditional Lappish teepee serving salmon cooked on an open fire, along with local cheese served with cloudberry jam and a delicious cheesecake.
There are opportunities for all sorts of activities in and around the village, and we chose to pay for the two that most appealed.
The first was a calm and peaceful reindeer sleigh ride. The boys were enchanted by the reindeer with their traditional harnesses covered in bells. Trotting through the silent snowy forest tucked up in reindeer skins, seeing glimpses of twinkling lights through the trees was a peak of Christmassy sentiment.
Our other activity fulfilled a long-held dream of ours; husky sledging! The price included Arctic-worthy snowsuits and boots and the minibus ride out to the husky farm, as well as a two-hour husky safari.
Shorter trips were available, and we had some worries about how the children would feel about two hours in the sled but decided that this part of the trip was where we would prioritise what we grown-ups wanted and we would keep our fingers crossed.
We needn't have worried; it turns out huskies enjoy running through the snow with their friends so much that they don't bother stopping if they need a poo, so the boys spent two hours gleefully squealing and pointing every time one of the husky team did their business!
Meanwhile, my husband and I took turns in standing behind and driving the sled; a basic lesson at the start told us how to operate the brake and how to read and give hand signals to the team behind for when we needed to slow down for a bend.
Driving a team of huskies through miles of forest and over a frozen lake in the Arctic Circle is an experience I will never forget.
Of course, we took the opportunity to have a meeting with Father Christmas, though he was very busy with it being so close to Christmas. I also sneaked away to visit the Lapland Post Office, where I was able to put letters in the post from the main man to be delivered before next Christmas.
There were lovely shops to visit, with local delicacies and a vast selection of decorations, as well as beautiful clothes and homeware from Finnish brands such as Marimekko and Arabia.
This was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I'm so pleased and appreciative that Jo was able to help us fulfil our dream.
Photographs courtesy of Jo McCloughlin